The thinking and practices in what follows draw together insights from somatic approaches to movement, improvisation, care, and posthumanism to propose ‘Practice Ethics’ that are activated in and by artistic research. Following some introductory remarks about ethics within research more generally, attention is turned to four thematic territories which give shape to intersecting and overlapping areas of attention in Practice Ethics, namely: ‘Self-care and Attentiveness’, ‘Other-relatedness and Agency’, ‘Meshwork and Nesting’, ‘Repairs and Eco-ethics’. Within these four themes, I set out a series of exercises/scores that seek to enable the ‘modelling’ of ethical practices. These each foreground concerns and dilemmas that may arise in embodied research. These ‘modellings’ offer space for undertaking ‘thinking doings’ and might be thought of as training grounds, or as reflective practicums (after Schon), through which it is hoped ethical attentions may be honed as a posthuman matter of care and as a practical, entangled, ongoing activity.
This work is informed by writers such as Joan Tronto, Eve Kittay, Maria Puiga de la Bellecasa, and Tim Ingold, alongside movement practitioners such as Eva Karcazg, Joan Skinner, Liz Lerman, and Goat Island. Selected exercises have been inspired by, and sometimes directly borrowed from, these movement-based artists, and these are acknowledged, as appropriate, as they arise. I hope the (re)situating of these borrowings into the frame of ethics enables a richness and multiplicity of perspectives via defamiliarising the otherwise (perhaps) familiar through an ethical lens.
Ethics and Research
In the Artistic Research Doctorate we might think of ethics in (at least) three ways:
Ethics in relation to Aesthetics,
And, as I propose here, Practice Ethics.
It is the latter of these that I am particularly interested in, as Practice Ethics seeks to attend to the real doings and needs of researchers engaged in artistic doctorates. As such, I am not going to dwell on ethics as a feature of aesthetics and the inherent concerns about whether art should be ethical or moral in its representations. Nor does what follows extensively address procedural ethics – all those codes of conduct, systems, and rules to which all researchers must attend. These ethical codes of conduct have their beginnings in the Nuremburg Code (1947) and the subsequent Helsinki Declaration (1964). They seek to ensure that all research is undertaken responsibly, respecting the rights of participants, and does no harm. These core principles are clearly articulated in the European Commission’s ‘Twelve Golden Rules’ for the ethical researcher, who, when following best research practice:
- Respects the integrity and dignity of persons (that this intrinsic worth protects them from being used for greater perceived benefits)
- Follows the ‘Do no harm’ principle. Any risks must be clearly communicated to subjects involved
- Recognises the rights of individuals to privacy, personal data protection, and freedom of movement
- Honours the requirement of informed consent and continuous dialogue with research subjects
- Treats animals with respect and works under humane conditions before, during, and after the research
- Designs animal research in accordance with the 3 Rs: Replacement, Reduction, Refinement
- Respects the principle of proportionality: not imposing more than is necessary on your subjects or going beyond stated objectives (mission creep)
- Treats societal concerns seriously – a researcher’s first obligation is to listen to the public and engage with them in constructive dialogue, transparently, honestly, and with integrity
- Tries to prevent being openly available for misuse or malignant dual use by terrorists or military organisations
- Recognises the wholeness of an individual and that any modification (genetic or technological) does not interfere with this principle
- Respects biodiversity and does not impose irreversible change that threatens the environment or ecological balance
- Builds on the understanding that any benefits are for the good of society, and any widely shared expressions of concern about threats from your research must be considered (with the acceptance that perhaps certain research practices may have been abandoned (European Commission 2013, 24)
These ‘Golden Rules’ are inherently at work within typical university ethical approval procedures. When these rules and attendant processes are undertaken with an open spirit (rather than being viewed as hurdles to be overcome or, worse, avoided) they support the development of research methods that entail the respect and consideration of all participants (indeed all life). Yet, whilst university procedures seek to protect research ‘subjects’ and generate well-meaning materials – such as information sheets and consent forms – these systems can, if we are not careful, tend toward a reductive approach to ethics – more focused toward protecting the university than enabling ethically informed research. Indeed, this reductive and protectionist approach is perhaps more common than we might like to admit. The bureaucracy can give rise to artistic researchers perceiving ethical committees as a ‘silent regulator of conduct’ (Bolt and Vincs 2015, 1307) that render, at times, the carefully formed relationships and co-generated (often implicit and generous) consent – into form filling and gatekeeping exercises, or even worse, generating disjunctures and mistrust that can adversely affect relationships with participants, collaborators, institutions, venues, promoters, and audiences.
As Hugo Letiche writes in an essay reflecting on ethics and presence:
Research ethics and methodology have focused on data collaboration, assent for publication and control over interpretation, but they have not attended sufficiently to the quality of the researcher’s relationship to other. Does the researcher allow the researched ‘to mark me’ (Das 1996, 1998) – that is, for the otherness, singularity, vitality and vulnerability of the other to have an impact. Too often, research reduces the other to the familiar or the same – that is, to the categories, prejudices and assumptions of the researcher. The singularity of place, circumstance, experience and other is flattened out and rationalised away. (Letiche 2012, 179)
To avoid such flattening out and rationalising away of the singularity of place, circumstance, and experience, we need to deepen our ethical awareness beyond procedural processes. To do so, I present ways in which we might reconsider ethics in accord with the embodied and emergent nature of artistic research practices.
Toward Practice Ethics for Artistic Research
To understand the context of Practice Ethics in, of, and for artistic research, it is useful – just for a moment – to acknowledge the ways in which artistic research has challenged traditional notions of what kind of knowledge counts. Promoting an approach that values ‘the emergence of insight instead of presenting conclusive knowledge’ (Hansen 2018, 27), artistic research has placed to the fore the otherwise commonly disregarded and overlooked values of inside(r) knowledges, establishing embodied and creative approaches to research. Further, it is significant to note that artistic research, as a performative and material approach, often reaches beyond conventional academic borders (see Estelle Barrett and Bolt 2010; John Freeman 2010; Henk Borgdorff 2012; Brad Haseman 2006; Vida Midgelow 2019; Jane Bacon and Midgelow 2010). It ‘acts’, it ‘performs’, with others and in the world, seeking to make a difference to particular publics, evoking new experiences and challenging established world views. And so too, as a performative act, we need to bring ethics to the fore in the ways we work, addressing:
By whom, where, and in what ways is artistic research generated?
Which bodies are at work, and how is this work valued?
What is research practice ‘doing’ – with and/or to whom?
What does it require (in material, intellectual, emotional, and physical terms)?
Who stands to benefit?
These ethical questions of artistic research beg that we consider more deeply how research is conducted, such that in reaping benefits as doctoral researchers, we don’t also create losers, or that in following our research agendas, we forget to attend with care and with love to the worlds we share.
I propose that we might begin to consider a frame for Practice Ethics in, of, and for artistic research through two intersecting discourses – care ethics and posthumanism. Turning to the first of these discourses, I am drawn the work of care ethicists such as Eva Kittay and Joan Tronto. Care ethics offers thinking about embodied and behavioural attitudes that inform the ways in which we relate to ourselves and others. Commonly found in health care contexts, often taking up feminist and maternal discourses, care ethics pays particular attention to the physical, interrelational, often asymmetric, positions of carer and cared for. It takes as its point of departure, ‘the observation that human existence is characterised by all kinds of (in)formal care which are as undervalued as important for the well-being of human beings’. It reveals how ‘caring and being cared for’ is an ‘activity that is vital for any kind of living together’ (ethicsofcare.org/care-ethics).
Given that artistic research demands numerous, varied, experiential, and often challenging encounters, where different parties can meet each other reciprocally (and not always symmetrically), care ethics gives us a way to better understand the content and nuance of such encounters. These encounters are often created along the way: ‘in the searches, while searching, when recounting, when listening, when clashing, when facing each other eye-to-eye, flesh-in-flesh’ (Hannula et al. 2005, 52). As such, artistic research means embracing the flesh and attending to the bodies, gestures, postures, and circumstances of those we work with. And perhaps through care ethics, we can attend to how responsiveness to the person may allow us to confront the ‘me-me-me’ of dominant culture (Letiche 2012, 178).
With the aim of promoting practices in which the value and agency of each individual is placed to the fore, Tronto (2005) has identified four elements or goals of care. These are: (1) attentiveness, a proclivity to become aware of need; (2) responsibility, a willingness to respond and take care of need; (3) competence, the skill of providing good and successful care; and (4) responsiveness, consideration of the position of others as they see it and recognition of the potential for abuse in care. For Tronto, recognition of these elements contributes to self-realisation in care workers. Similarly for researchers, they promote an ability to recognise the ethical dimensions of research and their ability to attend and respond appropriately to ethical dilemmas.
Further, Tronto and Fisher have proposed that care as ‘a species of activity that includes everything we do to maintain, contain, and repair our “world” so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, ourselves, and our environment’ (Tronto 1993, 103). Practising Ethics in artistic research might then inform how artistic researchers act in ways which are open and sensitive to enfleshed, lived, infrastructural, and environmental matters of care – for ‘care is too important to give up to the reductions of hegemonic ethics’ (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017, 19).
This means embracing and being responsive to the situated body of self and other (of the researcher and the co-researcher or the researched), and it entails radical relational and contextual thinking to address the political-ethical issues that arise and are inherent parts of many creative research processes. It foregrounds a focus on (marginalised) people, relationships, materialities, and precariousness, challenging ownership/authorship and promoting agency such that we work in ways that are not only cognisant of, but also actively address, care and caring in understanding our artistic research activity in terms of society, power, and injustice.
Care Ethics is then a global ethics and a politic, for ethics and care are not limited to the domestic, maternal, and intimate – it also concerns institutional, legal, social, and ecological structures and how such structures might promote caring relationships. As care ethicist Eva Feder Kittay (1993) states, ‘We should not be able to speak of such a thing as “too much care” any more than we can speak of “too much justice”’. Further, she encourages care ethicists
to bring their considerations to bear on questions of disability, sexual minorities, questions of immigration and globalisation. Encourage economists to come together with care ethicists to understand the economic structures that keep the work of caring as the responsibility of the disempowered. Encourage politicians to talk about issues of care. Engage in projects that help us to see what the best caring practices are for groups that find current practices unsatisfactory or oppressive. (Kittay 1993)
And now…Try rereading the above quote replacing the words ‘care ethicists’/’care’ with artistic researcher/art/research practice.
We might also wish, as María Puig de la Bellacasa does in Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds, to challenge ‘the view that caring is only human’ and present the significance of care as a political obligation and a means of ‘thinking in the more than human worlds of technoscience and naturecultures’ (2017, 12), and to expand agency beyond the human to ask how our understandings of care must shift if we broaden the world. Perhaps in broadening the world, we can gently expand and decentre the notions of ‘we do’ and ‘our world’ that asserts human agency (as per Tronto’s definition of care cited above), moving toward an encompassing, more-than-human, understanding.
The posthuman, or the more-than-human, offers a radical decentering of the traditional sovereign, coherent, and autonomous human. Thus, a posthuman care directs attention to how we are materially connected to the rest of the world, in affinity with its other subjects. Whilst posthumanism includes several threads of discourses, it can be seen to draw upon and interface with the anti-foundational concerns of poststructuralism and feminism and their insights into the unfixing of identities, mobility of meaning, and the contestation of knowledge to bring forward the significance of more-than-human worlds, materials, and things. As such, the posthuman enables us to note and tussle with the entanglements of self and other within worldly nature. The ethical task at hand here is to cultivate the ability to discern the vibrancy and acknowledge the value of all things and to become perceptually open to it.
Entering this ethical terrain requires a certain unsettling – resisting tendencies to smooth out or smooth over asperities, normalisation, and forms of colonisation, acknowledging instead the non-binary, more-than-human, material, and embodied realities and interdependencies of the world. Encountering material and embodied realities through ethics can problematise and challenge naturalised social hierarchies and oppressions, and a differentiated attentiveness to socio-spatial power forces that govern majority ethics may come forward.
For example, by rethinking artistic researchers as intra-agents (rather than as a humanist model of a singular agent) we might be able to address the ways in which through embodied practice we can make space for the ‘emerging artwork being entangled in a co-constitutive relationship where the artist is as much an agent as s/he is a recipient for the input or feedback that the emerging artwork or performance offers in the process of its creation’ (Landgraf 2018, 214). In a discussion of posthumanism and improvised practices, Landgraf writes further:
Agency here is determined as much by the sensibilities, experience, choices, and surrounding plans (or lack thereof) of the person as by the material, spatial, and temporal constraints s/he faces as it is defined by the work of art’s own volition, how it ‘comes together’. This is not to downplay the significance of the artist, his experience, knowledge, skills, etc., but to note the reciprocity of a process that is distorted if centered around the notion of a detached, autonomous, and controlling human agent. (Landgraf 2018, 216)
When conceived in this way, the artist finds themselves not in the position of an outside observer and autonomous agent who would fully oversee and control their doings, but as one (important) part of an evolving meshwork – escaping ‘the anthropocentrism of traditional or psychological notions of agency’ (Landgraf 2018, 217).
Perhaps through such insights to our practices, we can also find a way to be emboldened by, and to embrace, the material, collaborative, entangled, and emergent unknowns that artistic research encompasses (rather than feeling these aspects of artistic research as lack or something to overcome), for ethics and artistic research are complex and enmeshed. Neither can be (or should be) too neatly resolvable, especially if we take seriously the work of attending to and repairing previously neglected grounds.
Some ethical questions:
How do artists address ethical issues in their work?
How do artistic researchers form and shape encounters ethically?
What are the ethical implications that arise when working with bodies – which bodies, animal bodies, sensual bodies, sexual bodies, raced bodies, bodies in pain?How can you / are you present for the other?
How can/do you acknowledge the other as other – their seeing, feeling, hearing intact?
What does it mean for an artistic researcher to work responsibly and address questions of fairness?
What kinds of care does the researcher bring to the research?
What kinds of ethical decisions are made during the artistic process?
Are ethics emphasised in art education today?
How do ethics factor into institutional practice?
How do we ethically engage with materials and environment in artistic research?
Must art be ethical?
…What are the ethical questions emerging from the context of your own research?
Modelling Practice Ethics of/for Movement Research
This is an invitation to consider ethics at the centre of practice.
In what follows, you will be invited to move in and out of scores and exercises,
…catalysing and expanding ideas.
These are ways through which you might begin to practice ethical relations,
…generating, perhaps, new connectivities and agencies…
…new questions, methods, or outcomes.
In developing Practice Ethics, I have drawn on learning encountered in some of the somatic, improvisational, inter-subjective, posthuman engagements that my own artistic research entails in order to recognise the centrality of the lived bodily encounter. The intersections of these ‘learnings’ and ethics were crystallised for me in an exchange with Norah Zungia-Shaw and the Humane Technologies Project (Ohio State University, USA). In our jointly improvised ‘movement storming’ sessions (Zungia-Shaw 2019), notions of agency, supporting, cradling, nesting, and mending emerged – as hands formed in cupping shapes, papers around the room were gathered together to form shifting territories, and we supported, rocked, and eased each other into movement. Subsequently, Norah and I developed a workshop for the ADiE project in which we shared some of the materials that you will find here.
Seeking to make space for the unpacking of what is actually ‘done’ in embodied research, there is an emphasis on learning through experiencing. Unhinging assumptions, ethical ideas are explored and given form and life through exercises and scores. These scores are seen as ways to ‘model’ experiences that reveal ethical complexities – offering strategies through which we might activate an embodied engagement with ethics, care, and the posthuman in research – without pinning things down or assuming a moral rigidity in ethical questioning. They are embodied, intellectual, and aesthetic exercises that ask you to reflect, to listen, to move, to write, and to draw. They offer what we might call training grounds, or research ‘practicums’ (after Schön 1987) – self-learning spaces to enhance reflection in and through action, bringing about modification and ongoing change (without end). It is hoped that the activities might offer insights such that, when immersed in artistic research and perhaps facing ethical dilemmas, you have skills and experiences to draw upon. For we cannot be too ethically aware; we cannot speak of ‘too much care’ (to reiterate Kittay 1993, cited above).
As ‘modelling’ activities, the exercises/scores ‘act’ in different ways. Sometimes they seek to evoke an embodied sense, sometimes they enable a visualisation or act as a metaphor, sometimes they give space to step aside and reflect – to ‘see’ differently – working from the principle that care is attention in action. As such, it is also significant that each moment is a ‘practising’; they attend to ways of thinking and doing that can be improved upon by being repeatedly brought to the centre of attention – by being practised (in the same way the muscle elongates through daily stretching, or the brain becomes more plastic through the taking on of new skills like that of learning a different language). The exercises/scores are an invitation to develop ongoing and iterative processes that, through the very practising, may enable ethical ways of being to become more present, enabling us to become (perhaps) more attuned and more able to manifest an ethical sensibility.
The four intersecting themes of ‘Self-Care and Attentiveness’, ‘Other-Relatedness and Agency’, ‘Meshwork and Nesting’, and ‘Repairs and Eco-Ethics’ start from the body of the researcher – from self-care and inner attentiveness – and open slowly toward our continuity with others and the world through the eco-ethics of repair. These themes work from the view that how and why bodies move is deeply entangled with how bodies live – and how bodies live in an entangled and beyond human world (Morris 2015, 202). As such, bodies and their care are not (only) subjective, inward looking foci, but rather inner attentiveness is understood to enable bodymindworld porosity, in which we sense our mingling with others and with world. As Erin Manning notes, the body as a mode of articulation is the medium of negotiation and receptor for the ‘… politico-linguistic-affectual gesture that reminds me that my body is not one’ (Manning 2007, 10). As such, the differences between bodies, their capacities, and the ways they live in the world come forward, and in turn, as Morris points out, ‘gesture towards disparate worlds that are inhabited and lived by such bodies’ (2015, 205). These differences, and the agency each of us holds within in a materially interconnected universe, may (perhaps) become apparent as you work through the four themes.
As noted at the outset, some of the exercises/scores have been borrowed. They include, for example, the somatically informed work of Karczag, Skinner, and more broadly improvisatory practices. They are repurposed here. By placing them in this particular context, the ethical competencies and/or dimensions they embody become explicit. Through this repurposing, there is also an inherent linking to the value of recycling, of reducing excess labour, and most importantly, to the raising of an awareness of the ways in which ethical insights and dilemmas are to be found everywhere. Thereby, in approaching these scores/exercises, you are invited to do so with their new purpose – that of ‘modelling ethics’ – to the fore (whilst noting that many things may arise in the doing). Perhaps by reconsidering that which might be familiar in this new light, you can begin to foreground the doing/thinking of ethics in your own practice.
Various quotes are also inserted throughout. These seek to assist by expanding your thinking, offering a deepening, a challenge, or an example that might, in some untold ways, resonate with the activities and reflections undertaken. These quotes are drawn from a somewhat eclectic, set of sources – from dance makers/scholars, posthuman philosophers, care ethicists, and anthropologists – in the hope that there will be something here that finds a meeting point with your practical experiences, without assuming any predetermined relevance or fixity of meaning.
Whilst ‘modelling ethics’ through the scores/exercises, you might
reflect on the materials and generate your own questions.
There is, too, an invitation to ‘step aside’ at any point and practice one of the
self-reflexive ‘recurring tasks’…
Theme 1: ‘Practising Self-Care and Attentiveness’
Here the researcher’s attention is turned toward self-care (looking after yourself) and to addressing your readiness to acknowledge the ethical dimension of research practice. It attends to your ability to actually recognise when and how ethical dimensions are at work and to developing abilities to think in action through ethical issues as they arise.
Embodiment is a core and recurring feature of this work, for our bodies are our primary site of knowing, and in returning to the body again and again, there is an acknowledgement of our bodies as our first affordance with the world (Spatz 2017, 265). Drawing on embodied approaches as evident in somatic movement practices, the materials emphasise embodied inner listening and attentiveness. Through such attentiveness, it is proposed that we can learn to be aware of oneself, fully present and embodied, and that this sets the scene and attitude needed in order to be present for an other. As such, there is a movement towards ways we can acknowledge the ‘seeing, feeling, hearing of the other as other’ (Letiche 2012, 179) in embodied processes and artistic research.
We might call this a somatic or phenomenological openness, or we might call it empathy. What is significant is that what is being practised here is an ethical readiness in which we feel the porosity between inner and outer worlds, between self and other, between human and the more-than-human.
Score: Practising Witnessing
Becoming aware of your inner witness.
You might rest, you might gesture, you might extend this into moving from listening… whilst doing so, seek to become aware of your felt sense (after Gendlin 1978).
…Note the sensate, emotional, critical, and physical in and as you’re moving.
In this noting, try not to judge, try to leave behind your inner critic and just be with the noticing as it shifts, moves, or returns…
As per Authentic Movement –
the witness can be seen as an aspect of ourselves. By witnessing (self and others),
we can follow and describe,
giving sense perhaps to internal experiences,
noting and tracking that which emerges in action.
Score: Singularity and Connectedness
Moving with the principle that every part of your body can be respected in its singularity, and that each part is both autonomous and – at the same time – interconnected (after Joan Skinner).
‘Movement seems to be more skeletal than muscular. The muscles appear to be lengthened and wrapped around the bones rather than contacted or gripped… There is a suspended relationship to gravity which can be likened to the suspension of a dust particle in a shaft of sunlight’
(in Skinner et al. 1979, 11).
What might be the ethics of autonomy and connectedness?
How might we use suspension as a tool in supporting ethical reflection?
Score: Your Air Is My Air
Coming into group breathing cycle (after Eva Karzcag).
Sitting with one or more people, quietly allow your breath cycles to join into a shared pattern.
…your air is my air, we silently connect.
Theme 2: ‘Practising Other-Relatedness and Agency’
Here we look towards our relatedness to others – our other-relatedness. In doing so, there is an ethical attitude embedded in the scores/exercises that seeks to encourage the self and other as intra-dependent. Operating not as isolated subjectivities trapped within our bodies, but recognising that we share and are interconnected with each other and the world such that the somatic modes of attention implicitly at work here mean not just attention to and with one’s own body, but includes attention to the bodies of others (Csordas 1990 and Csordas 1993).
A first step in this process might be empathy and the employment of an ethical agency to reposition ones own body, such that the researcher is able to move ‘off centre’, in-relation and in-collaboration. Moving towards a decentred conceptualisation – incorporating the non-human and human – agency emerges from the intra-action of actants. Such intra-actions are embodied and collective, but often unevenly distributed. As such, we need to account for the ways in which we are discursively constituted and embedded within systematic inequalities. So whilst working towards reciprocity in research, we also need to acknowledge that relationships of reciprocity are not necessarily equal.
This means rethinking agency, rethinking bodies and materialities, as in-relation – perhaps developing ‘co-inquiry’ models where possible. Yet how such models – that seek to bring balance of benefits – have efficacy and are measured in relation to appropriateness and fairness is subjective, contextual, and requires constant negotiation. There is, then, an effort here to reflect on creating spaces and shared attentions, to co-create possibilities; for ethics is always relational, in the gaps and cracks between people and between things.
Score: (De)Centring (solo)
Work with the intersection between shifting core and distal patterns
…and then try radial and cross-alignments (after Irmgard Bartenieff).
Sense the differences and connectivities.
What happens if you shift the core to another place?
How might you experience the distal as centre?
Take up a pen and write a letter to your practice (as if it were your lover) that acknowledges and situates your ‘position’ – your privilege or dis/enfranchisements.
You might begin with the greeting, ‘Dear Practice…’
(see Midgelow 2013).
Score: Awareness of Self/Other
Standing shoulder to shoulder with a partner, take a walk together in silence. Notice what you notice. You might also try it with one partner blindfolded or otherwise sensorially limited. Notice what you notice…
…Attend to (micro-)bodily change and exchange, as each body changes in relation to the body of another, to being in relation…
Exercise: Practising ‘Touch’
Working solo…noting…the touch of the floor, the touch of light, surface area of the skin, noting the quality, texture, temperature.
Working with a partner…touching back to back…resting…co-supporting…
…noting its comforts and discomforts
‘Touch connects bodies, human bodies, bodies of thought, intermittently. As a political gesture, touch is an utterance geared toward an other to whom I have decided to expose myself, skin to skin.
Touch is an ethical discourse because I cannot touch you without being responsive.
For touch must always indicate its source, and its source can never be identified
by an individual: touch is singular-plural’.
(Manning 2007, 9)
Working with a partner, establish a counter-balance.
Noticing the effort, the shifts, and adjustments.
You might move together between points of counter-balance, noting the changes in activity/passivity and the processes of cooperation at work.
‘In the course of the counter-balance, bodies have to find new means of activity (micro-adjustments) to manage shifting relationships. A particularly challenging version of the counter-balance
occurs when the centre of gravity (formed between two bodies) shifts.
A body that creatively and actively manages the shift could be said to
increase its agency. If the action fails (as it often does), then the counter-balance is lost.
The body here does not increase its capacity but merely reacts to a change of circumstance.
We might think of the body created within the counter-balance as a single entity
composed of two constituent bodies. Thought as a unified body, the question of
empowerment devolves upon whether or not this bodycomplex exerts an
increasing agency within the course of the movement’.
Exercise: Listening and Practising Adaptability
walking with soft feet and easing into sudden stops and changes of direction
walking with soft feet – move towards a partner who has their eyes closed and is working to sense your presence (after Joan Skinner)
Score: Modelling Power
walk and take a still point
one person moves (turn taking)
one or more people move (overlapping)
all move together (playing with taking centred vs. distributed space)
Score: Shared Agency – Distributed Leadership
Flocking improvisation – forming a cluster group (often a diamond), the participants mirror or shadow each other’s movement. Each person ‘follows’ the movements of a ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ passes (perhaps becoming shared or multiple) throughout the group.
Recurring Task: Step Aside
At any time, pause – step aside from being busy doing – notice what you notice and notice your noticing…attend to your felt sense…attend to the relationships in the room…take time to describe the ‘howness’ of you and your relationships to the (non)human in this moment…(perhaps) speaking the unsaid. Record these as verbal reflections…
Theme 3: ‘Practising Meshwork and Nesting’
Here we look further at interconnectedness and the creation of ethical spaces – nests, if you will. Using the notion of nests evokes places of comfort, places of safety, places made with care, effort, and attention. You may also note, however, that nests are often perched in precarious sites, easy to dislodge, and that they are formed from fragile materials, tangled together forming loose, transitional structures. Nesting then acts as a metaphor; it speaks of building, of bringing things together, of places, spaces and structures, of cultures and systems, of love, of the maternal, and of temporality.
Alongside nests, the notion of ‘meshwork’ is borrowed from anthropologist Tim Ingold, who borrowed it from Lefebvre. This gives us another way of thinking about connectivity – by focusing on the pathway, the trajectories, or the threads of a web, as textures, or as a flow of materials. He writes, ‘They are rather lines along which things continually come into being. Thus when I speak of the entanglement of things I mean this literally and precisely: not a network of connections but a meshwork of interwoven lines of growth and movement’ (Ingold 2010, 3). As lines of growth, meshworks offer structures in which boundaries between body and world are no longer self-contained; rather, these are leaky, fluid, flowing, material interrelations that mingle in the conduct of operations.
In terms of ethics, these two concepts – meshwork and nesting –perhaps enable ethical thinking and practising to be understood not from the position as outside and inside, safe and risky, structured and open, but as fluidly co-created, (un)ravelling and trailing (and trialling). A situated practice which is entangled, often fragile, but when enabled, a practice that we might say affords conditions of possibility.
What might it mean to be no longer self-contained? To no longer be in (sole) control? To be in the flow of materials? To be nesting? To be making manifest conditions of possibility? For, as Ingold suggests, knowledge emerges through ‘a tangle of interrelated trails, continually ravelling here and unraveling there, that beings grow or “issue forth” along lines of their relationships’ (Ingold 2000, 149–50).
Score: Making Visible the Invisible
An improvisation for two people. One moves and the other works to reveal the less-visible (in whatever way you like – words, actions, intersections). Attend to the otherwise taken for granted, the invisible, the small gestures, and attitudes.
You might ask yourself – who is this ‘revealing’ for? What is its purpose?
And perhaps, through practice, you might refine the focus of the ‘making-visible’ and direct your attention to support an agreed purpose.
Exercise: Locating the Co/Intra-Agents in Your Research
List all the ‘participants’/‘agents’ (human and nonhuman) in your research
Position each (name) spatially in a relation-scape of intra-agencies to reflect at a particular moment of your research
Then, draw the changing relationships through time
‘As the life of inhabitants overflows into gardens and streets, fields and forests, so the world pours into the building, giving rise to characteristic echoes of reverberation and patterns of light and shade. It is in these flows and counter-flows, winding through or amidst without beginning or end, and not as connected entities bounded either from within or without, that things are instantiated in the world’.
(Ingold 2011, 85)
Describe the community in which you create work. Describe its characteristics and activities. What is it in this community that creates support?
Describe an imagined community that supports creative practice. Describe its characteristics and activities in detail.
Record (or write) a dialogue between you and an individual in this imagined community.
Something is transpiring in the imagined community that is unexpected.
Describe the steps you might take to actualise the imagined community from the community you have now (adapted lightly from Goat Island 2000).
Score: Meshwork – A Score for Movement (solo/pairs)
Tracing untrodden routes and unknown pathways
Raveling and unraveling
Exercise: Audience and Contracts
Draw, chart, or map your implicit performance ‘contract’ with your participant/audience/reader.
What responsibilities do you both implicitly bring to this ‘contract’?
New Zealand based dance/scholar Carol Brown asks:
‘Where does the sun rise?’ ‘How not to be imperial?’
‘How does the displacement of one place with another affect our corporeal identity and orientation with space?’
‘How might a choreography at the quick edge of the land catalyse a reconfigured relationship between soma and city, nature and culture, opening spaces for an altered sense of place and a state of attention to the continuous process of change?’
Exercise: Encountering Grounds
Co/write the histories of (the) (scorched) earth…the histories of the place(s) you find yourself…the histories of the physical/geographical, the human and/in the nonhuman.
Recurring Task: Step Aside
At any time pause – step aside from being busy doing – and notice what you notice…What are the ethical tensions or dilemmas at work right now? What are the ethical dilemmas you are facing in your research practice? Record these reflections.
Theme 4: ‘Practising Repairs and Eco-Ethics’
Reaching further into the ethics of the more-than-human and of the environmental, attentive caring intertwines self-care with care for social and ecological communities. Noting scars of trauma in bodies and in land, places of pain and disjuncture – the scores and exercises that follow seek to afford dialogue with forgotten and alternative histories, assert material flows, and promote acts of repair. Modelling ways through which we might reconsider the more-than-human and environmental as ethically embedded in all research, wherein the threshold of inside and outside are in fluid states of becoming, the scores assist us in considering how it is possible to navigating living, dancing, and researching in ecological, connected ways.
Exercise: Absences and Failures
Write the story of a moment / an incident / a conflict in your research – then write only the things that didn’t happen…use this as a score…for moving, talking, rewriting… (adapted from Jonathan Burrows 2010)
Mark Jeffery and Goat Island respond to the question: How do you Repair?
‘In engaging with fragility and repair, we have constructed: tables of cardboard; chairs missing legs and forever unbalanced; crutches of wood and cardboard to hold people up as if trees; stabilizers to connect lightness with growth and stability. In states of repair, tables teeter, topple, collapse. Chairs with one leg can never stay upright. Repairs are made with parcel tape and cardboard. Lightness creates its own weight. As more weight and pressure is applied, rigid temporary states become states of fragility. Objects are always in a state of imbalance, instability. Working with these reconfigured, everyday materials makes us reconsider our responses to the world, to the familiar. Whether in its collapse or in its interaction with itself, with other materials, or with our bodies, the newly transformed material or object helps us to look at possibilities for change, for renewal, for sustainability.’ (Bottoms and Goulish 2007, 42)
Score: Dance with the More-Than-Human
Stepping outside into a place inhabited by plant life…trees, grasses, flora, and fauna…move to study, move to echo…move alongside, move with…the companion species that surround you
You might seek resonance with the wide range of qualities, intensities, and dynamics, including near total stillness
You might sense the vast temporal differences between species, between the human and the other-than-human
…Moving toward a re-wilding of the body…newly inhabit and be in relation with plant and animal life
Describing the movement practice of Karl Cronin, Morris writes:
‘To move as if one is another is to open one’s body to the possibility of other bodies, other views of the world, indeed, other worlds that are lived and experienced by others, but to do so is not, must not be, to presume to fully know such others. Rather, such movements are becomings that never fully become, efforts towards the living experiences of other species, efforts towards morphologies that contour worlds different from the one that Cronin inhabits. His actions can only ever approximate the bodies and behaviours of his non-human companions, and such approximations can only ever hint at partial knowledge of the worlds that are made available to them. Yet, however partial or approximate the availability of such other worlds must be, Cronin’s body and world cannot remain undisrupted as it gestures towards such non-human Umwelten.’ (Morris 2015, 206)
‘What might it mean to enact “ways of being in and with the world” that enables the possibility of ethical coexistence?’ (Morris 2015, 209)
Score: Thresholds – A Movement Score for Any Number of Participants
Finding and moving at the edges…spaces in-between…at the boundaries…Between land and sea
Between inside and outside
Between performer and audience
…exploring the ‘art of thresholding, exploring the richness, complexity and vulnerability of edges and intertidal zones, and their metaphorical implications for our times’ (Little 2018)
Exercise: The (Natural/Urban/Institutional) Landscape as Co-creator
Moving alone and with others, make manifest (in any ways you would like) the social-historical-politics of place. Embody shadows and ghostings.
Who can move here?…What right do I/we have to move here?…
What can I/we bring?…What might be carried forward?…What do we leave behind?…
Liz Lerman discusses her work at Temple Michah:
‘Where in the room do you feel safe? Go there. Where in the room do you feel most prayerful? Go there. Where in the room do you feel holy? Or what part of the space do you think is holy? Go there. Where do you think paradise is? Go there.’ (Lerman 2011, 132–33)
Recurring Task: Step Aside
At any time, pause – step aside from being busy doing – and notice what you notice…Try to note ‘the tight spaces’ – ask yourself, what are the bounded edges of freedoms and the borders of agency at work in this moment? Record these as verbal reflections.
To Conclude (at least for now)
To bring this towards an ending, I invite you into a moment of meta-reflexivity. You might note that these practice ethics do not resolve or close, but rather open, becoming ongoing and speculative research questions. Puig de la Bellacasa puts it this way: ‘The question, then, is not “how can we care more?” but instead to ask what happens to our work when we pay attention to moments where the question “how to care?” is insistent but not easily answerable’ (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017, 7).
With the desire to pay attention to how we care in a more-than-human world, you might then take a moment to let the nutrients of the practice sink in and then speculate upon:
What (new) research questions arise?
What have you gleaned?
What might you harvest, store, or make ready (for another season, time, place, or encounter)?
How have these processes supported ethical thinking/doing?
How has/might your work change(d)?
And remember to rest, for ethical encounters start with self-awareness and self-care.
Be ready – be open and porous to the
encounters that will almost certainly
Reference List and Additional Resources
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Vida L Midgelow
Vida L Midgelow is Professor in Dance and Choreographic Practices based at Middlesex University where she leads the doctoral provision for the Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries. As an artist scholar she works on PaR methodologies, improvisation and articulation processes and has published widely in these areas. Her practice includes somatically informed improvisational works, performative lectures and installation/experiential performance practices/video works. She is editor of the Oxford Handbook of Improvisation in Dance and is principal researcher for the Artistic Doctorates in Europe project www.artisticdoctorates.com (EU funded). Selected public works include: Skript (NottDance Festival), Scratch (In Dialogue, Nottingham Contemporary), Some Fleshy Thinking (OUP), Creative Articulation Process (CAP) (Choreographic Practices) and Practice-as-Research (Bloombury). With Prof Jane Bacon, Midgelow co-edits the hybrid peer reviewed journal, Choreographic Practices and co-directs the Choreographic Lab www.choreographiclab.co.uk and is currently an associate research artist at i4C4/ Dance4.